Answer The Phones Live

Jim Luff
Posted on May 11, 2010

JIM LUFF: A customer’s definition of efficiency may vary from yours. When reservations need to be made, make sure you answer your phone live or risk losing valuable business.

After twice experiencing delays in placing a farm-out order with a well known limousine service last week, I feel the need to climb up on my soap box and vent. It all has to do with either the automated process that is common for so many companies or the process of answering the phone live in an efficient manner.
I am not sure who thinks it is more efficient to have an automated phone system answering for your company with endless choices of numbers to push to get to the right person, but I am not one of those people. Sure, it probably does save on labor costs by eliminating the receptionist. But it also takes the human touch out of the first contact as well, and as they say, first impressions are lasting impressions.
If you ask me to start by pushing “1” for English, it makes me furious. I live in America where English is our primary language, so I should not have to press "1" for English. But while I am on the subject, I will add that the person answering the phone should speak fluent English as well so that people understand. But that’s a whole other blog topic, and I don’t want to digress too far.
Why do people call a limousine service? They want a quote, they want to place an order, or they want to know the location of their car. With this in mind, why make it more difficult for them to accomplish their mission? Do you think the client who just got off a nine hour flight wants to listen to your list of options when he can't find his ride? Don’t you think he would rather hear a live, warm body answer the phone immediately and deal with the issue? Wouldn’t you? The worst thing that you can do is send this client to a voicemail or answering machine. People become livid at that point and you are sure to lose a client.
I understand that companies grow and get to the point that they departmentalize their operations. I have done the same. I also have a high-tech phone system capable of providing options and I do in fact use it on such occasions as national holidays when I allow all my employees to be off with an on-call person to answer the phone messages. But I rarely turn that system on, preferring instead to have a live operator answer the phone and be ready to help you immediately.
In my opinion, people that cannot quote or book a reservation have no business answering the phone at all at a limousine service. This is where my frustration lies. I called an affiliate to check availability for an upcoming date. A nice lady answers the phone. I identified myself as an affiliate. She asked how she could help me. So, I gave her all the information I had, and she said, “Let me transfer you to someone in reservations that can help you.” Hello? I now have to repeat all this information to another person? Why? Is this efficient use of my time to repeat myself? Why not just have someone answer the phone that can help me?
So, I get the information I need. I call back to place my order. When the nice lady answers the phone again, I ask for the person I was dealing with by name and I am told she has left for the day. I inform the lady that I need to place an order. There is a pause while I get transferred and I end up in a voicemail box. I am livid! I hang up and call back and tell the lady that I need to place an order right now and she asks me if I left a message in the voicemail system. I don't want to leave a message! I want to place an order! I want to give you business! I want to give you money! I did manage to get my order placed but I am telling you I will never again use that affiliate in that city because of the hassle in placing an order.
Wake up, operators. Is this how you do it? If so, you may want to rethink some things.
— Jim Luff, LCT Contributing Editor  

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Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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